Of the 700,000 troops from Operation Desert Storm, about 25% are affected by a complex of multiple symptoms which has now officially been recognized as an illness related to exposure to pyridostigmine bromide, a drug given to U.S. troops to neutralize the effects of nerve gas attacks and exposure to neurotoxic insecticides. Veterans of the First Gulf War who were affected by the complex symptoms, involving neurological problems, immune system disorders and a high rate of cancers have often been denied benefits or given only partial disability due to government's failure to recognize the disease.
At the October 2008 South West Disability Conference, the voice of the veteran's group was heard through the showing of powerful film, "Gulf War Syndrome: Aftermath of a Toxic Battlefield", which was directed by Alison Johnson, the Board Chair of the Chemical Sensitivity Foundation. The film did much to increase my awareness of the cluster of symptoms which cause the disabilities and diseases of this disorder and increase my understanding of far reaching consequences of Gulf War Syndrome.
The Research Advisory Committee on Gulf War Veterans' Illnesses released their findings in a report which identified that "Scientific evidence leaves no question that Gulf War Illness is a real condition with real causes and serious consequences for affected veterans". The symptoms include: memory and concentration problems; persistent headache; unexplained fatigue; widespread pain; chronic digestive difficulties; respiratory symptoms and skin rashes. Elevated rates of brain cancer and ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis) has also been reported among veterans with Gulf War Syndrome. Other causative factors have been named: exposure to low-level nerve agents such as Sarin during destruction of Iraqi weapons stockpiles; close proximity to oil well fires and the effects of multiple vaccinations. The Gulf War Syndrome is associated with diverse biological alterations affecting the brain and nervous systems. The report went on to comment that the illness differs from multi-symptom conditions such as fibromyalgia, but shares some similarities. The committee recommended a $60 million annual budget for new research into Gulf War Syndrome.
This report contradicts earlier studies commissioned by the military and VA which disputed the existence of Gulf War Syndrome as a disease related to toxic exposure and prevented ill veterans from accessing the needed benefits and services. This is an important stride in recognizing a disease caused by toxic exposure, unfortunately for many of the affected veterans it is too late.